Producing both good politics and policy, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s executive order essentially promulgating the contents of HB 707, the Marriage and Conscience Act, also leaves some legislators a bit exposed and less comfortable in this fall’s elections.
It’s odd how a bill that prevents the state from taking punitive actions against individuals and non-public corporations in the conduct of business who refuse to engage in commerce where that action would violate their sincere religious beliefs on the subject of marriage could strike such terror that it does not even get a full hearing and up-or-down vote. State Rep. Mike Johnson’s bill got some discussion and proponents and opponents got a chance to testify, but before he even could ask to have some amendments put on it, the House’s Civil Law and Procedure Committee voted to return it to the calendar. Only Johnson and fellow Republican state Rep. Ray Garafalo objected to short-circuiting the debate (another, state Rep. Cameron Henry, did not show up for the vote).
But it’s common in human history when an oppressive majority, finding compelling argumentation lacking against an idea, suppresses that idea as it cannot defeat it in debate, and the committee’s action only echoes that sad history. No doubt the motivating force for this almost unheard-of maneuver stemmed from the nature of the amendments, which placated any remote chance that the law could be twisted to allow discrimination for constitutionally-unjustifiable reasons.
That reaction is as a result of the nature of the objections to it. For some, typified by the Democrats on the panel, a bill like this questions their faith. Like many on the left, they believe in their ideology because they must believe, because not to believe destroys a delicately-laced lattice of personality traits that in their minds defines them as “good” people on the basis that they believe in the “right” things. To admit that opposing views have merit – and excruciatingly so as in objective analysis of data and history, much less through victories in the marketplace of ideas, those opposing views are typically demonstrated as more valid – cannot be tolerated, and so the left creates convenient, if inaccurate, containers into which these views are forced to fit and any rational argument or facts that contradict these finely honed defense mechanisms are distorted or denied by its acolytes. The heterodoxy supported by the bill simply cannot be tolerated, so its legitimacy must be denied or ignored, and shunting it out of the way takes care of that. They are scared to think for themselves because if they tried it they might not like what they find.
By contrast, the Republicans on the committee who supported cutting off debate before its logical conclusion probably did so because they also are scared to think for themselves, not because of the demands of their worldview, but because of the inconvenience it causes. Like those on the left, these milquetoasts are concerned about what kind of personage they project, but in this instance determined not in how they see themselves, but in how they think others see them. If they had the courage and intellectual capacity, they could lay out the principled position outlined in the bill that reflects the Constitution’s protection of religious belief from government sanction when that belief clashes with the behavioral preferences of a few, actions which do not enjoy Constitutional protection.
But fearing that the anti-intellectuals, bullies, and haters would call them names, they lack the courage of their convictions to stand up to that, as they place importance on their own self-worth defined by what a few loud others articulate concerning them. Thus, expect these wet noodles to answer to constituents about their vote on stopping the bill reciting some gibberish like the bill would be bad for economic development – an absurd argument if ever there was one, as it is entirely unserious to believe, for example, that if a law chased away two out of every 100 job applicants (the best estimates are that only two percent of the public prefers consistently acting homosexually) that the remaining impoverished hiring pool would bring Louisiana’s economy crashing down. Recognize such argumentation for what it is – flimsy and cowardly.
And they will have to answer for it, courtesy of Jindal. By issuing the order, it becomes policy that state and local governments will not take retaliatory actions in those instances (up until 60 days past the next legislative regular session). It’s a principled position that a large majority of Louisianans support, and also one that aids Jindal in hisincreasingly-likely attempt to win the presidency next year in a Republican nomination process where those agreeing with his preference probably enjoy as large if not larger of a majority on this issue. And, unlike Pres. Barack Obama‘s pattern of using executive orders to change the nature of the law such as with the misnamed Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Jindal’s use clarifies application of existing state government discretion in its activities, and by extension for local governments where their ordinances remain silent on granting protection to activities related to homosexual behavior, where potential action conflicts with the Louisiana Constitution is entirely appropriate and legitimate.
If those Republicans had hoped that they could melt away from the controversy, the executive order assures they can’t. Thinking they could suffer minimal political damage from a largely-obscured minor vote that they figured would disappear as an issue afterwards, it now has new life and they will be asked repeatedly about it during campaign season. Their bases, a significant portion of which will favor the order, will perceive them either as spineless or in disagreement, and both observations by the electorate will erode votes from them if a principled conservative candidate and one on this issue signs up to run against them.
Looking beyond the politics of the matter, Jindal’s decision simply was the right thing to do. It sends a message that state government will not endorse intolerance against sincerely-held religious views on marriage nor that those views will be sacrificed in favor of lifestyle choices. That reassures that liberty still is cherished, at least among those not willing to act as tinpot totalitarians only too eager to impose their idea of marriage onto to others despite constitutional protections of religious belief. Such folks endorse a bigotry and disregard for the Constitution that has no place in American political culture, and Jindal’s action put them at bay, at least for now. For if we know one thing about this kind of people, it is that they are relentless in their quest for control, held in check only by continual vigilance and the occasional act of courage at present witnessed from Jindal and lacking in a number of state legislators.